Air Malta is offering staff internal promotions and training for aeroplane captains just a few months before it shuts down, ahead of its replacement by KM Malta Airlines, raising fresh questions on the supposed discontinuity between the two companies.
An internal email sent to Air Malta pilots in October offered them the opportunity for a promotion to captain, which internal sources say comes with training and certification processes that run into March next year, just days before the airline is grounded for good.
Air Malta sources said the selection process was completed this month, with the final stages of training expected to last until February, releasing the selected applicants as captains by March. On 30 March, Air Malta will operate its last flight before KM Malta Airlines, the government’s replacement carrier, takes over as the new national airline on 1 April.
As revealed by The Shift in August 2022, the government was barred from injecting some €290 million into Air Malta to save it from crash landing after the European Commission opposed it due to state aid rules, forcing it to close the airline.
Following talks with the European Commission, the government was to set up a new airline completely separate from the old one, ensuring discontinuity between the two to avoid a breach of state aid regulations.
While there will be no automatic transfer of employment contracts, pilots employed with Air Malta can re-apply for employment with KM Malta Airlines under new conditions.
Air Malta had signed collective agreements with the Malta Pilots’ Association ALPA, guaranteeing early retirement schemes which would see the airline paying two-thirds the salary of pilots aged 55 with 25 years of service, until retirement age.
Upon announcing a new airline last October, Finance Minister Clyde Caruana and Prime Minister Robert Abela claimed some €90 million would be allocated to honouring those availing themselves of the retirement schemes. They said pilots taking this route would be barred from ever flying with the national airline or working in the public sector again.
Last year, in a claimed bid to save Air Malta, the government handed out ‘golden handshakes’ worth some €1 million per pilot to buy them out of the early retirement clause. It is unclear whether this option is still available to pilots and, if so, whether they can then be re-employed with the new airline.
In June, The Shift reported how some former Air Malta pilots who accepted the handshake were re-employed with Malta Med Air, a stop-gap airline owned by the Maltese government, through a UK-based pilot services intermediary.
Questions sent to Air Malta Chairman Philip Von Brockdorff and former Air Malta chairman David Curmi, replaced last month in a cosmetic move ahead of his appointment as chairman of KM Malta Airlines, remain unanswered.